alcohol industry

Is the bell tolling for alcohol advertising?

Good news. This has been a horrible week for the alcohol industry.

First The Medical Journal of Australia published a letter from researchers who investigated the use of social media by several of the world’s biggest alcohol brands and concluded that these brands were targeting young people, including under 18s, via Twitter.

Over a period of six months researchers at the University of Western Sydney monitored the Twitter activity of seven major alcohol companies: Budweiser, Corona, Jim Beam, Johnnie Walker MoetUSA, Smirnoff, Jack Daniels and Heineken. These companies were found to target youth oriented events including concerts and sporting events and used popular hashtags, which increased their likelihood of being noticed and retweeted by young people to their own networks.

In an example of the power of Twitter, the researchers reported that Budweiser sent just 286 tweets to its 15,000 followers but the messages were retweeted by those followers over 13,000 times. That’s a huge marketing dividend for a small outlay.

Many of those Budweiser followers, and many of those who received the retweet, are likely to be under 18 years because there is no effective way of checking the age of people who access alcohol brands online.

Online promotion enables alcohol companies to avoid the codes of corporate behaviour that are meant to regulate alcohol advertising in Australia. The same issue applies to Facebook alcohol promotion as young people can engage with Facebook from the age of thirteen.

Somehow, the alcohol industry, which never tires of telling politicians how ‘responsible’ it is, has failed to notice this problem and has taken no action to prevent young people from being exposed to alcohol advertising in this way. No, wait. The CEO of the Brewers Association has just told the ABC that the industry’s self-regulated advertising code will release best practice digital marketing guidelines next month. So soon, after only 20 years of the internet? We’re betting they’ll be just as useful as the rest of the self-regulated marketing code.

People have started to notice this lack of governance. In a second embarrassment this week for the alcohol industry, the Herald Sun newspaper published an editorial that concluded: “If alcohol companies fail to promote their products responsibly then we must ask ourselves whether they should be allowed to advertise them at all.”

It will be hard for the alcohol industry’s PR types to accuse the Herald Sun editor of being a soft headed, latte sipping, chardonnay swilling, left wing, bleeding heart, health loving commie.

And finally, in a third embarrassment, The Age newspaper has reported today that Cricket Australia has allowed the Australian team spinner, Fawad Ahmed, not to wear the VB logo on his Australian uniform because he does not want to be associated with alcohol. This undermines the sponsorship narrative that all players endorse the product and that alcohol is important to the game. Neither has ever been true, but Ahmed’s actions have highlighted the issue.

A clear message has been sent to the alcohol industry this week to clean up its act. This issue is unlikely to go away and GrogWatch has been following it unfold since the beginning of the year with stories such as:

Sports reporters start to ask the big question

Alcohol in wonderland

Young people targeted by alcohol brands on the quiet

Liquorland lashed by Australian Drug Foundation

What do you think, are the days of alcohol advertising numbered?